Several studies have demonstrated anatomical and functional segregation along the dorsoventral axis of the hippocampus. This study examined the possible differences in the AMPA and NMDA receptor subunit composition and receptor binding parameters between dorsal and ventral hippocampus, since several evidence suggest diversification of NMDA receptor-dependent processes between the two hippocampal poles. Three sets of rat dorsal and ventral hippocampus slices were prepared: 1) transverse slices for examining a) the expression of the AMPA (GluRA, GluRB, GluRC) and NMDA (NR1, NR2A, NR2B) subunits mRNA using in situ hybridization, b) the protein expression of NR2A and NR2B subunits using Western blotting, and c) by using quantitative autoradiography, c(1)) the specific binding of the AMPA receptor agonist [(3)H]AMPA and c(2)) the specific binding of the NMDA receptor antagonist [(3)H]MK-801, 2) longitudinal slices containing only the cornus ammonis 1 (CA1) region for performing [(3)H]MK-801 saturation experiments and 3) transverse slices for electrophysiological measures of NMDA receptor-mediated excitatory postsynaptic potentials. Ventral compared with dorsal hippocampus showed for NMDA receptors: 1) lower levels of mRNA and protein expression for NR2A and NR2B subunits in CA1 with the ratio of NR2A /NR2B differing between the two poles and 2) lower levels of [(3)H]MK-801 binding in the ventral hippocampus, with the lowest value observed in CA1, apparently resulting from a decreased receptor density since the B(max) value was lower in ventral hippocampus. For the AMPA receptors CA1 our results showed in ventral hippocampus compared with dorsal hippocampus: 1) lower levels of mRNA expression for GluRA, GluRB and GluRC subunits, which were more pronounced in CA1 and in dentate gyrus region and 2) lower levels of [(3)H]AMPA binding. Intracellular recordings obtained from pyramidal neurons in CA1 showed longer NMDA receptor-mediated excitatory postsynaptic potentials in ventral hippocampus compared with dorsal hippocampus. In conclusion, the differences in the subunit mRNA and protein expression of NMDA and AMPA receptors as well as the lower density of their binding sites observed in ventral hippocampus compared with dorsal hippocampus suggest that the glutamatergic function differs between the two hippocampal poles. Consistently, the lower value of the ratio NR2A/NR2B seen in the ventral part would imply that the ventral hippocampus NMDA receptor subtype is functionally different than the dorsal hippocampus subtype, as supported by our intracellular recordings. This could be related to the lower ability of ventral hippocampus for long-term synaptic plasticity and to the higher involvement of the NMDA receptors in the epileptiform discharges, observed in ventral hippocampus compared with dorsal hippocampus.